Alliance party

The Alliance party describes itself as a non-sectarian party which advocates co-operation between nationalist and unionist communities and is aligned with the Liberal Democrats.

The Alliance party has been involved in Northern Irish politics since the early 1970s but it has never really been able to shrug off its small party status. Its most well-known member was John Alderdice, who became leader of the party ahead of the 1987 general election, contested the Belfast East parliamentary seat and received 32% of the vote, the highest percentage ever achieved by Alliance in an individual seat in a Westminster election. He was elected to the Northern Irish Assembly in its first elections in 1998, becoming Speaker, a position which led him to resign as leader of the Alliance party, holding the position until 2004.

On its website the Alliance party describes its aims as being "to build a Northern Irish society devoid of segregation, sectarianism and prejudice where everyone – Catholic or Protestant, black or white, local or immigrant, rich or poor, young or old – can live their live the way they want, free from fear".

While these are worthy aims the nature of Northern Irish politics means that the shared society the Alliance Party wants to create where Northern Ireland takes advantage of its links to the UK, Ireland and Europe may be some way away.

The Alliance party is opposed to the Northern Ireland power sharing executive on the grounds that it believes the people of Northern Ireland should be able to elect their own executive and decide their own system of government without systems imposed on them by Westminster.

David Ford, the party's current leader, was asked to be justice minister in the powersharing executive last year but turned down the offer saying: "It's a very definite and a very emphatic no. This executive is incompetent, it's time they got on with doing the job that they were set up to do." The Alliance party vote has largely held steady but seen no real increase.

In the 2010 general election the party made headlines when candidate Naomi Long ousted Democratic Unionist party leader Peter Robinson from his Belfast East seat. She won a 22.6% swing, but the seat will be marginal next time it comes up for election in 2015.